Will Power is Useless. You Need Strategy.

Around the holidays a lot of adults, just like their kids, start fantasizing. But we aren’t imagining we might get a pony or a new bike from Santa, we’re imagining that this will be the year we exercise will power throughout the season, the year we head into 2015 unscathed by liquor laden office parties, cookie exchange parties (that’s why I’m writing, I’m trying to avoid the tin in my kitchen), Christmas chocolates and general holiday revelry.  Well, to that line of fantastical thinking I have two words to say: GET REAL.

Will Power. We all want it but how many of us really have it in the moment? Sure there are a few Kate “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” Moss types out there who seem to find it easy to put a tiny waist over taste, but for most of us, having will power is just another fantasy, and this is the time of year that we become most aware of just how powerless our will can be around constant temptations in the form of gingerbread, egg nog, mincemeat pies, Rugelach, gooey Godiva or whatever scrumptious holiday food lures you off you health game.

Will power is about what happens in a moment between you and something you love. It’s unpredictable or fleeting at best. This is why you need to head into these next few weeks with health and weight management strategies.  Unlike sheer force of will, a weight management strategy is proactive, planned and can be exercised in advance (and when sober!). Will power is saying no thanks when the waiter walks by with the egg nog or chocolate cheesecake bites (it could happen), a weight management strategy is doing extra cardio that morning and eating a very healthy lunch because you know you probably won’t pass on the famous canapés at your neighbor’s annual holiday party.

Will power is walking by uninterested in the giant tin of cookies you brought home from the cookie-exchange party every day for a week (not gonna happen). A weight management strategy is baking a cookie you don’t particularly care for (something tasty of course but not your personal weakness) so you don’t eat a dozen prior to the party, taking a small tin and eating one of your favorites at the party but not bringing home the ones that you’re likely to overeat. You can also choose ones that freeze well and bring them out when guests come so it’s not just you against the tin. It’s easier to have will power in that minute before you’re leaving than it will be to have it every day until the cookies run out.

A weight management strategy is calculating how many guests you’re having and making the right amount of food. If you have eight guests, you don’t need 4 pies because that’s one pie for the guests and 3 to tempt you the next 7 days. A weight management strategy is telling your family members to please refrain from giving you sweets as part of a gift because you are watching your sugar intake.  And while you would probably not feel okay throwing away Grandma’s famous Christmas pudding, it’s okay to throw away candy and other processed sweets. You aren’t depriving a starving child of something he needs by throwing away candy. No one needs teeth-rotting empty calories so you don’t need to feel guilty about trashing trashy food on occasion.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking I’m suggesting you be a food Scrooge this season, but that’s not the case.  For me, maintaining my weight through the holidays is about knowing my weaknesses and budgeting for them. While some experts say to eat before parties so you’ll avoid the snack and sweets, I do the opposite. I went to a party at 7:30 last night and I knew the food would be great because it was last year so I did not have dinner before and had a very healthy lunch. My dinner was a lot of pita chips and an amazing sausage dip, some cocktail shrimp and a cookie. I’m okay with that because had I eaten before then gone in and had a few drinks I would likely still have had all those things AND dinner. I love trying new foods and sampling new tastes. This to me is part of the joy of a party so rather than deny myself throughout the season, I plan ahead, exercise as often as possible, and eat even healthier than normal when I’m not out and about.

Weight management strategies can be exercised year round. I always buy the Halloween candy I find the least appealing so I’m not stuck with bags of it afterwards. I try not to go to the grocery store hungry and make good choices in that 45 minutes because that’s a lot easier than exercising will power every day of the week in front of a sugar stocked pantry. There is no ice cream in my freezer but I’ll go out for ice cream some with the kids in the summer. There is no cookie jar in our house, but sometimes I get a cookie at Whole Foods if they are fresh out of the oven.  If I’m planning a social occasion, I choose restaurants with healthy options.  I don’t have perfect will power, but I do have practice at eating healthy. At this point in my life, I know I can’t teach an old dog new tricks or a food lover perfect will power, but I am committed to looking and feeling healthy so I use the tools and strategies above and in my book all the time.

It’s too much pressure to try to be good in the moment in a season full of moments. Plan for the moments but make sure they are just moments, not one endless food binge. Be realistic and budget your indulgences over the next few weeks. Remember how miserable it is to wake up January 2nd with 5-10 extra pounds on your frame and have to live like a monk for a month or more to recover. Remember how it seems to take three times as long to lose the weight as it did to gain it. Eat, drink and be merry but also be smart, be sensible and strategize.

Happy Holidays everyone!  Thank you for your support in 2014. I look forward to staying healthy with you for many years to come.

Lindsay